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Color Theory in the World of Makeup

By Marvin Westmore June 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

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Every day you are surrounded by a world of color.  Since infancy, it has influenced your thoughts, actions, emotions and reactions. Color can say “stop,” it can say “go,” it can say “slow down.” It can be bright or dull, cold or romantic, eye-catching or mind-numbing—and it has many names and forms. According to Joy Turner Luke, artist and art lecturer, “Even though color seems intuitive and simple, it is not. It involves some of the most complicated things on Earth—light and the human eye and brain.”1
        “Working successfully with color requires both emotion and knowledge,” says Luke.1 And though one aspect is not necessarily more significant than the other, having a more extensive knowledge of color and how it works allows for better appreciation of the complexity and importance of the color you work with every day.

Elements of a theory
        When first learning about color theory, there are several elements to understand before getting into the aspect of makeup. First, there is the element of pigment; second, the three dimensions of a color; third, color harmonies; and fourth, color reflectiveness. Understanding all these elements is important, as they come into play in makeup color trends.

        Pigment. All forms of makeup, be they water-based, oil in water, wax-based, cream, stick, cake or mineral, fall under the first element of color: the theory of color in pigment, which is what gives color its color. No matter what the pigment’s source, natural, chemical or mineral, the same color theory holds true.

        The three dimensions. The second element of color theory to understand involves the three dimensions of a color.2 These dimensions help to more accurately describe color and include:

Hue—The name of the color, such as red, orange, yellow or green.
Chroma/intensity—The brightness or dullness of a color, or the measure of a color’s strength or purity; its saturation.
Value—How light or how dark a color is, corresponding with its position on a scale that runs from black to white with all shades of gray
in between. All colors have a gray value, as if seeing the same makeup or picture on a black and white television. The value of a color gives depth and dimension to what you see. It provides contrast, light against dark. In makeup, colors must be selected carefully so they don’t all have the same gray value, as that would result in the client’s face being uninteresting, washed out and lacking in definition and nonverbal communication.
       Hue, chroma and value can all be measured separately and must be taken into account when designing a makeup or mixing product. When each of these dimensions is recognizable, it is easier to distinguish the relationships between colors.

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